New Zealand Law Society - Births, Deaths and relationship registration law to be updated

Births, Deaths and relationship registration law to be updated

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Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne has introduced the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Bill to Parliament.

The bill re-enacts the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Act 1995 with the objective of addressing the "lack of coherence and transparency" resulting from multiple amendments to the 1995 Act since it was enacted.

With some exceptions, it is intended that re-enactment will not change the effect of the law, but that the provisions will be presented in an up-to-date and accessible form.

Review of access provisions

The bill will give effect to the recommendations arising from the Minister of Internal Affairs’ review of the access provisions in the 1995 Act, which was presented to the House of Representatives on 20 October 2016.

The bill makes some changes to the rules that restrict what information can be published online, which will enable the Department of Internal Affairs to develop an end-to-end service that increases access to BDM information (including historic BDM register images) through digital and online channels.

The legislative framework for the new access channels will include a requirement for a verified RealMe ID (or an approved equivalent) that can be asserted online. The Bill will also clarify the status of Intention to Marry books, which are a valuable resource for genealogical research. Access will be authorised in the same way, and subject to the same rules, as solemnised marriage records.

Changes to BDM registers

The Bill will make a number of small but important changes to improve the integrity of the BDM registers by clarifying the rules concerning overseas-registered or overseas-sourced BDM information (eg, an overseas-registered divorce or dissolution of a marriage solemnised in New Zealand), close a gap in the existing law that could undermine the effectiveness of a non-disclosure direction, and strengthen BDM access register requirements.

In addition, regulations that will replace the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Prescribed Information) Regulations 1995 will provide that an individual’s death record will record all of that person’s children (living or dead), with a notation "deceased" where applicable.

Under the 1995 Act, children who die before one (or both) of their parents are not recorded on their parent’s death certificate. This change will address a known cause of concern for grieving families and ensure more complete family records, which will benefit individual families, researchers, and family historians.

Law Commission burial and cremation law review

The legislation will also respond to three discrete issues which were raised by the Law Commission in its 2015 review of burial and cremation law.

The bill introduces a new requirement for a preliminary notice of death (similar to the existing preliminary notice of birth) to be completed by the health professional responsible for the certificate of cause of death. It will also clarify the existing law, which conflates responsibility to notify a death with responsibility to notify disposal of a body. This means some deaths are not notified in a timely way. The person making decisions about disposal of a body will need to notify the death "as soon as practicable, and no later than 3 working days, after the disposal of the [deceased] person's body".

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